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The history of Armenia is one of invasion and foreign rule. Historic Armenia traces its lineage back to the 9th century B.C. when a union of local tribes known as Uratu (Ararat) came into being. It was founded by Aram, a legendary national hero, and its people were therefore referred to as Armens or Armenians. The Medes conquered the area in 612 B.C. Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, seized the area in 549 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 331 B.C., and Armenia gained independence until conquered by Syria in 212 B.C. In 95 B.C. Tigran the Great, established an Armenian kingdom whose borders extended from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. It was conquered by the Romans in 66 B.C.
In 286 Tiridates III liberated Armenia. Tiridates was converted to Christianity by Saint Gregory and in 301 (recent scholarship says 314) Armenia became the world’s first Christian state. Christianity provided Armenians with a national identity and consciousness that has persisted through the centuries of conquest and division that have followed. It was the bulwark of the Armenian language and culture, a rallying point for the scattered elements of the population, and the center of resistance against assimilation. In 387 Armenia was divided between Byzantium and Persia. In 450 the Persian king commanded all Christians to convert and enforced his will with the invasion of a large Persian army that was victorious. The Armenians continued to resist and in 484, a new Persian ruler granted full toleration of Christianity.
Arabs gained control of Armenia in 653 but permitted the rule of Armenian princes, which in time became virtual kings. The Bagrantuni dynasty reestablished an Armenian kingdom in 806 and ruled during a period of prosperity during the 9th and 10th centuries. The Seljuk Turks overran the country in the 11th century and the Mongols in the 13th century. During these centuries a diaspora of Armenians sought safety elsewhere.
Ottoman Turks and Persians contested the area in the 16th century and in 1639 they divided Armenia between them. The Persian half eventually fell to the Russian empire in 1828. Muslim Turks saw the large Christian population in the eastern half of Turkey as a subversive threat. They massacred 300,000 Armenians in 1894-1896. Armenia was a battleground between Turkish and Russian armies during World War I. Though successful against the Turks, Russian troops withdrew after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Turkish massacres of Armenians escalated; between 1915-1922 nearly 1.5 million Armenians perished in what is considered the first genocide of the twentieth century. A modern diaspora of Armenians sought refuge in Russia, the United States, and elsewhere.
The defeat of the Ottoman Turks in World War I and the dissolution of the Russian Empire gave the Armenians a chance to declare independence in May 1918; but the nation could not defend its borders against the Red Army that invaded in December 1920 and reestablished Russian ascendancy. During the war between Turkey and Greece (1920-1922), Armenians sided with the Greeks and the victorious Turks wrested the districts of Kars and Ardahan from the western portion of Armenia. Russia incorporated the remainder of Armenia into the Russian Empire and thence intosome gramar the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic in 1922. It became a separate republic in 1936 and remained part of the Soviet Union until the union disintegrated in late 1991 and Armenia regained its independence.
Armenia has not prospered in the recent decades. In December 1988, a massive earthquake killed 55,000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless. It damaged the country’s nuclear reactors and they had to be shut down, substantially reducing the national energy supply. Much of Armenia was denuded of trees as they were cut down for firewood during the extremely cold winter of 1992-1993. Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted in 1992 over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, entirely encompassed by Azerbaijan. Though a cease fire went into effect in 1994, the issue has not been resolved.
Ninety percent of the Armenians in the world are Armenian Apostolic Christians and most of the other ten percent belong to the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Evangelical churches.
The Armenian Apostolic Church (also known as Armenian Gregorian or Armenian Orthodox) is numbered among the “Oriental Orthodox” communities along with Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox churches because it refused to accept the rulings of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Most Orthodox Armenians are subject to the Catholicos who resides in Echmiadzin, a monastery twenty miles west of Yerevan. The monastery has been the ecclesiastical metropolis of the Armenian nation since the 4th century. A smaller group of Orthodox Armenians are subject to the Cilician Catholicos resident in Antelias, Lebanon. The schism between the two occurred in 1441 but they have worked harmoniously for five centuries.
In the 14th century, the missionary activities of Franciscan and Dominican Catholic orders gained ground among Armenians. However, an Armenian Catholic Church was founded much later by Mekhitar in 1701 in Constantinople. The Vatican recognized it in 1712. In 1831, the Ottomans granted recognition to the Armenian Catholic community.
The beginnings of Armenian Protestantism trace back to the missionary activities of the American Board of Missions which engaged in aggressive missionary activity throughout Asia minor in the 19th century. They succeeded among the Armenians, not the Turks. The Ottoman government recognized the Armenian Evangelical Community in 1846.
Armenia has 3.6 million inhabitants of which 96 percent are ethnic Armenian and the rest are Kurds, Yezidis, Russians, Jews, Assyrians, and Greeks. The majority live in urban areas, about a third in the capital city of Yerevan. There are 27 cities, 31 towns, and 921 villages.
Beginning in the eleventh century, a long series of invasions, migrations, deportations, and massacres have decimated or disbursed the Armenian population. In the 1990s, 12-13% of the population (about 500,000) emigrated. Today, about sixty percent of the world’s Armenians live outside Armenia, one million each in Russia and the United States. Armenia has officially defined the Armenian nation to include those in the diaspora.
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Armenia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1990-1999.